This is a very frightening time for people. You may know what caused the arrest, for example a fight in the street, or you may not have any idea what it is all about and think it is all a dreadful mistake by the police. In any event the police will want to ask you some questions and they have specified time limits as to how long they can keep you while they ask those questions.
You cannot normally be held by the police for more than 24 hours without being charged or released. In the cases of more serious offences a further 12 hour detention can be granted by a senior police officer. A total of 96 hours can be granted in the most serious of cases but this must be approved by the Magistrates Court. If the police do not have enough evidence to charge someone they may only be detained if the police have good reason to believe that by furthering the detention they would be able to obtain the evidence they need to bring charges. If an investigation is continuing, the police can bail someone without charge to return to the police station at a fixed time and date.
The police are required to ask you if you want to see a solicitor before they start to question you, (beyond questions about who you are if they don’t already know etc). If you do have a solicitor on a retainer to help in these situations now is the time to call him, however if you already have a criminal lawyer on your payroll you probably wont be bothering reading this web site! For the rest of us without “Rumpole of the Bailey” in our pocket, the usual choice is a solicitor you know from other events such a buying a house, or if you don’t have an existing relationship with a firm of solicitors, the Duty Solicitor. The duty solicitor is fully qualified to help you and paid for by the government on a retainer and will be attached to a specific police station or group of stations. If you do ask for a solicitor the police must stop any questioning of you until you have had an opportunity to have a private discussion with the solicitor. This solicitor works for you, not for the police, so should always have your best interests at heart.
The solicitor will advice you as how best to proceed, and will advise you either to answer the police questions or just to say “no comment” to everything asked of you. The principle job of the duty solicitor at this stage is to ensure that you do not inadvertently make matter more difficult for yourself by what you say, and to ensure that the police stick to the laid down procedures surrounding arresting and questioning people. In particular, for example, there are strict rules surrounding how long they can keep you in custody before charging you. As said elsewhere in this web site, we do not pretend to give you legal advice; if in doubt get the advice of a real legally qualified expert.
If you don’t take the services of a duty solicitor and are charged, you will need to appoint a solicitor to act on your behalf. There are many perfectly good law firms who are specialists in criminal law and you can find one in your area on pages in the site. If you decide not to even appoint a solicitor yourself the courts will appoint one on your behalf when your case comes to trial. This solicitor is retained by the courts for this purpose, however it is almost invariable easier if you appoint your own beforehand and discuss with them your case. This could be the duty solicitor if you asked them to continue to act on your behalf. You can, even, tell the court that you don’t want a solicitor to represent you and you will do it yourself. There is an old legal phrase “ a man who acts for himself has a knave as a solicitor and a fool for a client”…..
Solicitors cost money (the original duty solicitor comes for free almost all of the time, at least for the initial meetings). The courts run a system called “Legal Aid” which provides the money to pay the legal fees you will incur in defending yourself. The rules of eligibility for being granted legal aid are currently being changed by the Ministry of Justice and the current rules are very complicated. It depends upon a means test to see if you can afford the costs of a defence yourself, and it is beyond the scope of this web site to try and explain how it works. As said before; go and ask an expert solicitor who will be able to advise you.
The next issue you may face is bail. There are 3 types of bail in the UK, Police bail ,Police to court and Court bail .
i. Police bail is where you are released by the police without being charged but must return to the police station at a given time.
ii. The second type of bail is where the police have charged you and the court hearing at the date and Court given for the first hearing of the case.
iii. The third type is Court bail where you have already been in court and are granted bail pending further investigation or while the case continues.
There will be conditions surrounding these type of bail, which may be to attend a police station on a regular basis (could be daily or weekly/monthly), called signing on plus whatever else the courts decide. If you are charged with a serious offence, (usually defined as one where the maximum sentence is 10 years) or other specified crimes, or the police think you are a danger to yourself or others, or that you may not attend the next court hearing, then they may ask that you are not given bail, or that you (somebody) puts up a financial guarantee that you will attend court as required. In most cases the guarantee is just that and no money has to be deposited with the courts but the person putting up the bail may well have tp prove that they have the money to settle the bail if claimed. As everything to do with the law, this is a complicated area and can only properly be handled by a qualified legal expert.